Spotlight Berlin

May 1945 in your historical thinking – part 2

A Danish journalist, a Jewish adolescent of Turkish origin, an American war journalist, a young German mother: they all have very individual perspectives on the end of the war in Berlin. Some elements of the following accounts complement the history of the end of the war as told before. Other aspects paint a very different image.

Photo: Imperial War Museums, WM EA 65948, public domain

“My God, was I scared. The propaganda made us so frightened. […] From that time on, I was so horribly afraid, I wished for a bomb for relief. If I think back to these hours now, it all seems like a bad dream to me. […] Now things were gradually improving, the horrible fear faded a little, we set out and got ourselves swedes (Swedish turnips) from a burned-out inn. That gave us lunch again. Like this, 10 days had passed after the Russians had arrived. The first Russians came to our cellar on Thursday, April 27, 1945, around noon time.”

Ilse Schier-Weimann experienced the end of the war as a young mother in Berlin-Steglitz. Her memories she noted down in a diary. Here you can find out more about her experiences.

Photo: Ilse Schier-Weimann with daughter Ingrid, 1944 (German Historical Museum, LEMO)

“The Russians are here!! And before you know it the first one came into our room. We could not believe our eyes. That’s what the Russians looked like, so clean and marvellously dressed! And how were they always shown to us in the German newsreels? He was beaming all over his face, shouting ‘Dobsche, dobsche!’ I was so happy I flung my arms around my mother’s neck. Now all misery had come to an end after all, because these people didn’t look as if they were going to kill us. In order to also say something, we all stammered ‘Dobsche, dobsche!’ too. This Russian didn’t stay with us for long, he just asked for soldiers. He didn’t find any though. Those who had stayed in our cellar were probably all captured already.”

Gerda Langosch experienced the end of the war in Berlin as a young woman. She noted down her memories in fragments. You can read more from her diary here.

Photo: Gerda Langosch, 1944 (German Historical Museum, LEMO)

“It is impossible to put the destruction into words. The entire centre, the government district and the area around the Tiergartenfestung (Tiergarten fortress) are completely destroyed. The streets are littered with wreckages of burned-out cars, tanks, motorcycles, guns and the likes. […] Between 10pm and 8am (Russian time) civilians must not be seen on the streets. Radio receivers, cameras and weapons have to be handed in. Many Berliners are constantly on the move. Most of them have no place to stay. Countless people are camping under the open sky in the Tiergarten that is littered with damaged war material.”

Jacob Kronika was a Danish journalist and correspondent for two Danish newspapers in Berlin between 1932 and 1945. The observations are from 4 May 1945. Here you can find more extracts from his book “Der Untergang Berlins” (“The downfall of Berlin”).

Photo: The Berlin Reichstag destroyed by bombs, June 1945 (Imperial War Museums, BU 8573, public domain)

“Halfway up the street, an elderly woman and a little girl were foraging for fuel in another wrecked house. […] Under a fallen joist the child found a man’s left shoe, in fairly good condition, and this she put into her rucksack. Single shoes are a commodity on Germany’s black market.”

Joel Sayre was an American war journalist and wrote for a New Yorker newspaper. He was in Berlin in July 1945. Here you can find more information.

Photo: Destroyed houses in spring 1945 (Bundesarchiv, 183-J31399 / unkown / CC-BY-SA 3.0)

Isaak Behar is born in 1923 as the third child of a Turkish immigrant family. The family is Jewish and after 1933 increasingly subjected to racist hostilities. Only by coincidence, Isaac is not present when his entire family is arrested in December 1942. While his relatives are deported from Platform 17 of the Berlin-Grunewald train station and are eventually murdered, he lives in hiding undetected, thus escaping both persecution by the National Socialists as well as the destruction of the WW2. In May 1945 he is the only survivor of the family and is left on his own. He dies in 2011 in Berlin.

Isaak Behar’s life story can also be found here amongst the “Forgotten Biographies”.

Photo: Cover of Isaak Behar’s book “Promise me that you will stay alive”, published 2006 by List.